It’s very important—before you make your 3D printer purchase— to understand the different types of 3D printers. Each type has its own unique features and advantages, and depending on your specific needs, one type of 3D printer may be a better fit than another.
The 3D printer types listed below are the three most popular on the market today. They are, FDM, SLS, and stereolithography:
1. FDM 3D Printers
FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modeling, which is a 3D printing technique that utilizes an additive method where a 3D model is produced by heating and then squeezing out plastic, and then the heated plastic is reconstructed, layer by layer.
Most of the portable 3D printers today are FDMs, and they are arguably the most popular 3D printers on the market. This is partly because FDM technology is the most accessible (easiest) and so FDM printers are significantly more affordable than the other types.
Some, if not most, of the best 3D printers under $500 are FDM printers.
2. Stereolithography 3D Printers
Stereolithography is also an additive technique but is very different than FDM. Instead of heating plastics into malleable form and shape/squeeze them, this process utilizes a photosensitive liquid, which is hardened by an ultraviolet light beam.
Stereolithography will produce a higher quality 3D model as the printout compared to FDM printers, but since the process is much more complex, stereolithography printers are much more expensive.
SLS stands for Selective Laser Sintering, and in many aspects, is a very similar process to stereolithography. The main difference, however, is that SLS involves fabrication powder instead of photosensitive liquid, and laser instead of ultraviolet light.
A unique benefit of the SLS technique is that it can (properly) 3D print metal materials, which isn’t possible with the other two methods. SLS is commonly the most expensive method out of the three and is certainly much more expensive than FDM.